“The keel has been ripped off, the mast is broken in three pieces, and the deck is almost completely separated from the hull. What looks like a rugged GPS tracker seems however intact.”
It’s been a minute, hasn’t it?
On June 25, 2020, Geoforce began tracking the transatlantic voyage of The Alexander, a 2-meter unmanned sailboat built by students at the United Technologies Center in Bangor, ME. Geoforce saw this as a perfect opportunity to showcase the toughness of its GT0 satellite asset tracker and signed on to support the project.
After two false starts, the miniboat launched into the Gulf Stream on the last day of 2020. Sensing 2020 was finally over, ‘Alex sailed eastward faster than yachts five times her size. Clearly, this miniboat had places to BE.
And that’s the only excuse for bypassing the idyllic Azores or Ireland during St. Patrick’s Day. Or any of the predicted landfall sites. We missed so many “landfall” deadlines my editor went on holiday while ‘Alexander took a 2-week stroll around Western Europe.
Then, after a catch-and-release by the fine ship Nimrod TO30, ‘Alex made a 180 and headed straight for the French coast. It crashed/washed up on Plage du Minout near Brest, France on March 27. In all the trip took 87 days, landing only 4.4 miles from IFREMER, a leading oceanographic institute.
IFREMER was expecting ‘Alex and had a recovery effort ready. But she made landfall on a Sunday, so all nice guy Hirle could do was drag her away from the tide and return the next day with a transport vehicle. And that seemed to make sense, because if ‘Alex didn’t party in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, she arrived in France looking like she did. She wasn’t going anywhere.
But the next day Hirle couldn’t find ‘Alexander. Anywhere (you know, that place she wasn’t going?). Panic was about to set in, but then Geoforce received a location report from a row of flats in downtown Brest. Yes, we were now tracking a miniboat moving on land. This job gets weird.
Emails flew between IFREMER, program founder Dick Baldwin, and Geoforce. Should they go recover it? Should they contact the police? Nobody wanted another Panama City (long story). Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and everyone decided to sleep on it.
Good thing, too.
The next day Dick received an email from ENSTA Bretagne, a local engineering school. Apparently, some surfers had taken ‘Alexander to ENSTA because they knew it had a world-class miniboat program. This is literally the best place in the world for a traveling miniboat.
Good thing nobody called the cops!
ENSTA’s Fabrice Le Bar’s diagnosis was brutal: “the keel has been ripped off, the mast is broken in three pieces, and the deck is almost completely separated from the hull. What looks like a rugged GPS tracker seems however intact.”
Please forgive a little smugness: Geoforce is happy, but not surprised.
So, What’s Next?
Charlene Feucher from IFREMER has been teaching kids about the oceans, and even told them about miniboats. She’s been hoping to show them one someday. Now the kids are getting their chance. ENSTA is loaning The Alexander to Charlene so she can show it to schoolchildren in Saint-Lucere.
After that, Charlene will return the miniboat to ENSTA, where they plan to inspect/repair ‘Alexander and perhaps even sail it back across the Atlantic.
(Sigh) Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in.
We’ll keep you posted.
PS. The next miniboat is already being built. Super-tough, its goal is to circumnavigate the Southern Ocean/Antarctica. Yes, geography fans, that’s around the world.
Should Geoforce track that miniboat as well? Let us know.
Jay Karlson is a Senior Product Manager at Geoforce.